Once in a while, I’ll read a story from The Conversation and be astonished simply that this field of scientific study exists – even before I learn about a researcher’s new findings. That’s the case with this story on the synchronized – but not always! – flashing of fireflies. University of Colorado Boulder postdoc Raphael Sarfati is a physicist who works in a lab that investigates a very particular niche: animal collective behavior. He describes his field work observing a swarm of fireflies in South Carolina and how, upon looking closely at the data on their flashing, he was able to find a segment of the group that was slightly out of synch with the majority – as predicted by math and physics.

It’s well-understood that air pollution causes respiratory and heart diseases but that’s not where the risk ends. Evidence that it harms the brain and mental health continues to grow. Wayne State University researcher Clara Zundel recently published a systematic review of the literature and writes that it’s very clear that pollutants, such as ultrafine particles from vehicle exhaust, can enter the brain and influence mental health.

The COP27 climate conference ended early this week with a breakthrough agreement for developed countries to create a fund for climate-related “loss and damages” that occur in developing countries, and to keep intact an existing target to limit warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. But short of an “extraordinary and unprecedented effort” to cut emissions, the world’s countries will not be able to hit that goal, writes climate scientist Peter Schlosser of Arizona State University. What does that mean? He details some of the adverse effects we can expect, such as a much higher risk of extreme weather, and explains why methods for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere are needed.

Also in this week’s science news:

Martin La Monica

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Fireflies’ synchronized light shows have fascinated observers for ages. Raphael Sarfati

Synchrony with chaos – blinking lights of a firefly swarm embody in nature what mathematics predicted

Raphael Sarfati, University of Colorado Boulder

Synchrony is ubiquitous throughout the universe. But physicists’ equations predicted there could also be erratic exceptions marching to their own beat. Now they’ve been spotted in firefly swarms.

As the planet heats up, air pollution is getting worse. Westend61/Getty Images

Air pollution harms the brain and mental health, too – a large-scale analysis documents effects on brain regions associated with emotions

Clara G. Zundel, Wayne State University

In a systematic review of existing studies, researchers found that air pollution such as fine particulate matter can interfere with regions of the brain responsible for emotional regulation.

Young activists have been pushing to keep a 1.5-Celsius limit, knowing their future is at stake. AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

After COP27, all signs point to world blowing past the 1.5 degrees global warming limit – here’s what we can still do about it

Peter Schlosser, Arizona State University

A leading climate scientist explains why going over 1.5 degrees Celsius puts the world in a danger zone.

World Cup: This year’s special Al Rihla ball has the aerodynamics of a champion, according to a sports physicist

John Eric Goff, University of Lynchburg

Adidas releases a new ball for every World Cup. At the highest level of play, a ball that behaves in unexpected ways can throw players off. A sports physicist explains the science of this year’s ball.

Scientists discover five new species of black corals living thousands of feet below the ocean surface near the Great Barrier Reef

Jeremy Horowitz, Smithsonian Institution

Black corals provide critical habitat for many creatures that live in the dark, often barren, deep sea, and researchers are learning more about these rare corals with every dive.

People don’t mate randomly – but the flawed assumption that they do is an essential part of many studies linking genes to diseases and traits

Richard Border, University of California, Los Angeles; Noah Zaitlen, University of California, Los Angeles

People don’t randomly select who they have children with. And that means an underlying assumption in research that tries to link particular genes to certain diseases or traits is wrong.

6 feet of snow in Buffalo: What causes lake-effect storms like this?

Michael A. Rawlins, UMass Amherst

Western New York got socked by a storm that dumped 6 feet of snow in parts of the region, including the home of the Buffalo Bills’ stadium. A climate scientists explains how storms like this happen.

COVID-19, RSV and the flu are straining health care systems – two epidemiologists explain what the ‘triple threat’ means for children

Rebecca S.B. Fischer, Texas A&M University; Annette Regan, University of San Francisco

Respiratory viruses are hitting young children and infants particularly hard this fall and winter season, and experts don’t yet know exactly why.

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission to the Moon sets the stage for routine space exploration beyond Earth’s orbit – here’s what to expect and why it’s important

Jack Burns, University of Colorado Boulder

When the Orion Crew Capsule orbits the Moon there will be no one on board. But the mission will mark a key step in bringing humans back to Earth’s dusty sidekick.

Ending Amazon deforestation: 4 essential reads about the future of the world’s largest rainforest

Jennifer Weeks, The Conversation

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva says he will end land clearance in Brazil’s Amazon region. But powerful forces profit from rainforest destruction.

Dreaming of beachfront real estate? Much of Florida’s coast is at risk of storm erosion that can cause homes to collapse, as Daytona just saw

Zhong-Ren Peng, University of Florida

Dozens of homes near Daytona Beach collapsed or were left unstable when Hurricane Nicole struck. Here’s what can be done to reduce that kind of risk.